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article imageNextAI showcases startup talent building AI businesses

By Jack Derricourt     Sep 21, 2017 in Business
NEXT Canada concluded its first NextAI program this week with Venture Day. 15 startups from nine different countries participated in the first year of the program.
200 members of the business and technology community attended NextAI Venture Day. The startups pitched to a selection of panelists, showcasing their unique takes on commercial applications of AI.
“When we launched NextAI, it was to fill a gap in the Canadian AI ecosystem. In Canada, we have been experts at research and education, but these 15 companies are working to actually commercialize AI and build successful businesses,” said Anthony Lacavera, co-chair of NEXT Canada and chair of Globalive Capital.
“We’re excited to graduate our first cohort from the program today. Over the last eight months these entrepreneurs have worked with top industry experts and educators to build their businesses, and they’re committed to changing the way everyday Canadians interact with technology.”
So much has changed since the program started, indicating the relevance of AI for businesses at large. NextAI’s academic director Graham Taylor stressed how AI can help “write the programs that are currently out of reach” for the finance, health, natural resources, supply chain and even human resources sectors.
Professor Ajay Agrawal, Academic Director of NEXT Canada emphasized that, since the inception of the NextAI program, artificial intelligence has been thrust to the forefront of every kind of industry: it’s not just marketing pixie dust, but an offering of real substantive change across a wide range of spaces.
And the award goes to
Smart bin startup Intuitive took home the top venture prize. Intuitive’s bins not only sort waste depending on the type — garbage, different sort of recyclables, or organic — but the data created through this process could be adapted to better track and adapt to waste trends. With the award, Intuitive received free submission into the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, as well as $5,000 in API credits on the Clarifai platform.
Food waste startup Deepnify was the winner of the People’s Choice Global Impact Award. Deepnify looks to use machine learning to assist
“NextAI has given us the opportunity to turn our idea into a business with huge potential for growth,” said Krista Caldwell, co-founder of Deepnify.
From showcase to slam dunk
Angela Tran Kingyens, Partner at VC Version One, was part of the panel critiquing and commenting on each startup’s pitch. Following the pitches, she spoke to the power of AI as it is being harnessed by orgs and companies north of the border. Kingyens noted how historically, Silicon Valley hasn’t focused on AI when highlighting companies.
“They haven’t been focused very much on AI in particular. It’s always been about individual companies. There’s tons of AI going on, but it’s not corralled as it is in Toronto. Canada is building an identity around AI.”
But it takes more than just showcases to create a thriving innovation ecosystem.
“We need wins,” says Kingyens. “It’s amazing to celebrate great dreams and ambitions. Now we have a lot of work to do. There’s still a lot of work to be done promoting us as an AI/startup hub. Once we see great companies being built, that will really validate us as an ecosystem.”
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